Cross-country running is a sport where you push your body across different terrains to get the best possible time. But it is also much more of a mental sport than it is physical, and that’s what interests Grandon Smith, star senior cross-country runner for Castleton.
“I think it (running) is eighty, ninety percent mental, because there’s always that point where you say to yourself ‘hey, I can stop running now’,” Smith said.
Since coming to Castleton, stopping is something he has not done, starting his freshman year when he won NAC Rookie of the Week six times. He ended that year by placing 14th at the NAC Championships, earning him a Second-Team All-Conference nod.
Coming highly recruited from Newtown, Connecticut by former head coach John Klein. Smith has only improved since his first year. And Coach Dave Heitkamp, who has been Smith’s coach since his sophomore year, has nothing but praise for him.
“He puts in the work, does all the miles, every summer,” Heitkamp said multiple times during our interview.
Smith’s leadership ability also impresses his head coach.
“He’s the type of teammate that will hold your feet to the fire, but at the same time, he will be standing in the fire himself.”
Klein, who retired after Smith’s freshman season, saw many things in him to warrant recruitment. “For me, the thing that stands out about my first meeting with Grandon were his attitude and quiet confidence,” Klein reminisced. “At Castleton, I had the opportunity to coach a number of many talented runners, but by any measure, I’ve had none with Grandon’s combination of perseverance.”
According to Smith, the technical part of his running has been something that has changed and improved drastically. After two injury plagued years in high school, he put in the time to study professional running styles, shifting his own to try and avoid injury.
His sophomore year, he was the Spartan’s top finisher in all nine races, and was named NAC First-Team after a runner-up finish at the NAC Championship. Last season, the accolades and achievements kept coming as he was named NAC Runner of the year for the first time in his career. He finished first at the ECAC Championship, and recorded a career best time at the NCAA Regionals in the 8K with a time of 25:26.13, which roughly translates into a little over five minutes a mile.
When asked what his goals were for the upcoming season, his answer was simple. “The NAC Championship I’m definitely looking to win. There has also been talk within my inner circle about Nationals, which is the crème de crème. It is the end of the road.”
Consider one goal accomplished, as he won his second straight NAC Championship last week, finishing with a time of 26:24.9 and will next compete in the New England Regionals. He also finished the year with five individual titles in six meets – on his way to to winning NAC Runner of the Year again.
“Becoming a great runner is such a chiseling line that it makes your character so much more resilient,” Smith states. I think it’s fair to say he is a great runner. As he graduates Castleton this year and heads off to graduate school, he will be leaving behind quite the legacy as the most decorated runner in school history.